Review: Evil Tonight

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One of the wonderful things about gaming is the variety of ways you can approach an experience. There are plenty of folks out there more concerned with speedrunning or achievement hunting than with simply completing a game, and over time, developers have reacted to that in different ways. I mention this because Evil Tonight feels like it’s for a rather specific group of people: those who enjoy the challenge modes in Resident Evil. Even if you’re just here to experience the gameplay or story once through, the survival horror balance here is designed to seriously test you. And while it won’t take more than a few hours to see the tale to completion, there are some choices here that may hamper your enjoyment.

You step into the stylish shoes of Sylvia, a modern medium who battles evil by bringing the evil to her. During a job at an abandoned performing arts school, things go awry in a big way, trapping her and others in a complex full of nightmare creatures and unquiet spirits. Sylvia’s only chance is to scavenge what she can from her surroundings and fight smart against the darkness, but the bystanders caught up in the chaos may very well complicate things. As she explores the school, the secrets behind the haunting will be revealed, and Sylvia’s skills as a medium will be tested to the fullest.

Evil Tonight is very much a top-down Resident Evil, rendered in some of the most lush pixel art I’ve ever seen. I normally don’t mention graphics up front but the look of this game absolutely takes center stage here. All of the sprites, from characters to inventory, are clearly inspired by Final Fantasy Tactics, giving them a warm and inviting feel from the soft gradients used. They’re actually even warmer than that, due to a filter that adds the most subtle of soft blurs to the edges of the art. The end effect gives just a hint of beholding the whole thing on a classic CRT, without really affecting the sharpness of the image. Details like this make Evil Tonight an extremely pleasing game to look at, especially when combing through the immaculately detailed environments in search of key items.

But yeah, Resident Evil! I can’t let go of this comparison, because so much of the game feels like a love-letter to that specific brand of survival horror, and all that entails. You’ll have a small assortment of firearms to seek out ammunition for, but conservation of these resources is key because enemies can take a shocking amount of punishment. A combat knife serves as your main conservation tool, limited by a stamina bar that keeps you to four swings in a row. The most basic enemies can take up to ten knife swings to dispatch, which seems excessive especially when foes like that present little threat themselves but block access to narrow hallways you need to cross. Healing items are also at a premium because enemies do a lot of damage, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to reload saves just because I took too much damage on my way somewhere. The combat itself is nice and responsive, it’s just the details surrounding it lean pretty heavily on the difficulty.

Outside of battles, you’ll mostly be crisscrossing the campus in search of keys and puzzle pieces to open up the next area. Puzzles are very straightforward affairs, and once you check a locked door, the icon of the key needed will hover over it whenever you pass by. Those icons will NOT show up on the map, however, because there is no map. It feels like a glaring omission at first, given how winding the hallways can be and the sheer volume of backtracking needed. Honestly I was able to manage okay without a map because of how compact the game is, but it’s definitely not a point in its favor that it consciously makes navigating harder than it should be. Also not a point in its favor is the writing, which is overly wordy and trying far too hard to be cute or clever. The main character Sylvia in particular has a terminal, absolutely deadly case of hot-girl-written-by-a-guy, constantly dropping cringe-inducing lines about how hot she is or how much some dude obviously wants her.

If you can get past all these player-unfriendly bits, though, I have to admit that Evil Tonight is a surprisingly compelling little adventure. The graphics do a lot to hook you, and the sound design matches perfectly will rich effects and a mostly-reserved soundtrack. I enjoy the action quite a bit, even if it does drag on too long in places, and it’s got a neat little mystery to unravel. The whole thing shouldn’t take you more than four hours, and judging by the achievements, it seems like no-save or no-healing challenge runs are the intended replay value. That doesn’t appeal so much to me, and if you’re not the kind of person to do more runs on higher difficulties, this one might leave you wanting. But for a charming, if flawed, survival horror adventure, Evil Tonight does enough right to be worth the trouble.

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